In the upcoming months, all 32 NFL teams will be adding and subtracting players. This will naturally ignite a competitive atmosphere once organized practices begin. Players that are returning from a down season or injury marred campaign will be under pressure to bounce back.
This is especially the case for a particular quarterback who was named the 2015 NFL MVP, then backslid significantly last season. We will take a look at him as well as other players who are fighting against Father Time or competing to land a lucrative new contract.
The following players, for varying reasons, need to have a bounce-back campaign in 2017.
1. J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans
For the first time since he was drafted in 2011, Watt missed substantial time due to injury last year. Prior to the start of the 2016 season, Watt underwent two surgeries. One was to reattach muscles to his lower abs, and the other was to repair a herniated disk.
Recovering from the second surgery, Watt actually wondered whether he would be able to ever play again. He did, but only lasted in three games in 2016 before he re-injured his back. Sadly, Watt was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
In need of a bounce-back and hopefully healthy return in 2017, Watt has been fully cleared to practice. He said he actually feels “rejuvenated.”
When healthy, Watt is a freak athletic wonder on the field. During 2012-2015, Watt recorded a total of 69 sacks and led in this stat in both 2012 and 2015. He is literally a quarterback’s nightmare.
If Watt can remain upright throughout 2017, he would prove that his injuries are legitimately a thing of the past.
2. Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers
Last season was just not the year for Newton. After falling to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl L, Newton and the Panthers never quite recovered.
A far cry from his 2015 numbers, Newton actually posted basement level lows in 2016. First, he completed a career-low 52.9 percent of his passes, even with third-year wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin back in the mix.
The 6-foot-6 signal caller also threw for only 19 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions. His rushing stats dropped off dramatically as well. He managed another career-low with just 358 yards on the ground. In turn, his rushing touchdowns decreased by half compared to 2015.
Along the way, the Panthers won just six games and Newton actually received a brief benching for simply not wearing a necktie during travel, which had to be humiliating.
I pray that Cam Newton didn't get bench for not wearing a Tie 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽.. If that is true that's the dumbest rule Ever!
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) December 5, 2016
Newton’s overall performance and the Panthers’ poor campaign have long since been swept under the rug. With that said, the 2015 NFL MVP needs to step it up this time around.
3. Adrian Peterson, running back, Minnesota Vikings
If Peterson wants to play past 2017, he needs to have a rebound season starting this September. He will be turning 32 in March and is returning to action after injuring his MCL last September.
But prior to the injury, Peterson was not great in the limited action we witnessed. He managed only 72 rushing yards on 37 attempts. That equated to a horrible 1.9 yards per carry. It was very uncharacteristic for Peterson. The prior year, AP concluded 2016 with a league-high 1,485 rushing yards at a pace of 4.5 yards per carry.
The Vikings offensive line was much to blame for Peterson’s struggles. Peterson is reportedly healthy and actually is “perplexed” that others doubt his ability to come back strong this fall.
Speaking of coming back, Peterson will be a free agent in 2017 after the Vikings decided not to pick up his $18 million option this year.
Wherever Peterson lands, the seven-time Pro-Bowler needs to bounce back in a big way after experiencing a disappointing series of events.
4. Ziggy Ansah, defensive end, Detroit Lions
This fifth-year pass rusher dealt with multiple injuries last season that caused a major setback in production.
Ansah went 10 games in a row when he did not record one single sack and finished the year with only two. This is compared to his career-high 14.5 sacks the prior season.
His solo tackles were also down from 39 in 2015 to 21 in 2016. As a result, Ansah was rated at No. 51 among all edge defenders by Pro Football Focus. The drop off in numbers was surely a disappointment to the Lions, considering they committed to Ansah’s fifth-year option last May.
Ansah needs to add more kindling to the fire this year. He was part of a lagging defense that allowed a league-high 72.7 percent pass-completion rate and 33 passing touchdowns. The Lions didn’t exactly excel in rushing the passer.
Ansah will be up for a new contract after 2017. His level of play and health will be a big factor when it comes to talking numbers after the season.
5. Eddie Lacy, running back, Green Bay Packers
Last year there were conflicting reports as to whether the Packers wanted Lacy to drop some weight.
First, we heard this.
“Eddie’s got a lot of work to do. I’m stating the obvious,” said head coach Mike McCarthy. “His offseason last year was not what it should be and he never recovered from it. He cannot play at the weight he did this year.”
Then there was this.
“The Green Bay Packers have never, ever asked him to lose 30 pounds. That’s totally out of the realm of what we’re talking about. That’s the facts there. He’ll learn from this.”
The bottom line is Lacy did not perform anywhere near the level we saw during his stunning 2013 rookie season. Before landing on IR, Lacy rushed for 360 yards in five games and could not score to save his life.
Last season, his fourth with the Packers, should have been the year that set the bar for his future contract.
He’ll likely be obtained for pennies on the dollar in free agency on a short-term deal. Making it count with a big season will be crucial for the long term.
6. Blake Bortles, quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars
If Bortles wants to keep his starting job for 16 games in 2017, he needs to work on his accuracy and limit his turnovers. He’ll be starting the final season of his rookie deal after being drafted third overall in 2013.
Bortles is not exactly worthy of being called a quarterback bust. But, this could change with another poor campaign. Bortles’ numbers dropped significantly in 2016 when he passed for 3,905 yards, 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
In 2015, Bortles managed a career-high 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns. Unfortunately the NFL is a business that focuses on what you have done lately and not two seasons ago.
Being benched in 2017 would be detrimental to Bortles’ career moving forward. This is provided Bortles is the main man under center this September.
— Sunday Night Football (@SNFonNBC) February 25, 2017
When the team resumes practices, Bortles is going to have to perform at a high enough level that the Jags’ brass feel convinced he is up for a comeback year.
At least Bortles has the support of general manager, David Caldwell. Caldwell believes the team can win a Super Bowl with Bortles. We shall see.
7. Tyrann Mathieu, safety, Arizona Cardinals
Mathieu signed a huge contract last year that made him the highest paid safety in the league. Unfortunately, the “Honey Badger” had a somewhat disappointing 2016 campaign that saw him miss time with a shoulder injury.
Throughout 10 games, he recorded one interception, four defended passes and 35 combined tackles.
When healthy, Mathieu is indeed an upper echelon defensive back. In 2015 he notched career-highs with five interceptions, one touchdown, 17 passes defended, one fumble recovery and 80 combined tackles.
It is no wonder the Cardinals invested so heavily in him prior to last fall. But because of his less than stellar first year under his new contract, Pro Football Focus rated Mathieu 61st among his position in 2016.
To restore a little lost faith for the Cardinals, Mathieu needs to stay healthy and pump those numbers back up in 2017.
8. Ameer Abdullah, running back, Detroit Lions
For Abdullah, the best NFL performance many remember him for was a preseason game in August of 2015.
Shortly after, there was talk about comparing Abdullah with the legendary Barry Sanders. In that preseason game, Abdullah tallied a cool 67 rushing yards on only seven carries including a 45-yard long sprint.
But, that was so 2015 preseason. Following that performance, Abdullah really never shined again. He rushed for 597 yards and just two touchdowns in his rookie year. He was featured in all 16 games, but started in just nine.
Then things went for mediocre to worse in 2016. Just two games in, Abdullah injured his foot and was eventually placed on IR. He was close to a return late last year, but perhaps the team did not want to rush him back.
As it stands, Abdullah is on course to take place in the team’s spring OTAs. After the team struggled to run the ball much last season, the Lions have plans to upgrade their run game, according to the Detroit Free Press.
If Abdullah’s foot is no longer a concern, he will likely be given another opportunity to be the Lions’ featured back. Should he falter, Theo Riddick and Zack Zenner would be called to step up.